We’ve mentioned the buzz surrounding Knoxville throughout the offseason and it’s starting to generate even more power as we approach SEC Media Days in July, perhaps Tennessee’s arrival moment on the national media pedestal (that’s yet to be determined).

There’s a reason why a lot of us like the Vols’ chances entering Butch Jones’ third season as the leader of a program which has put together one of the league’s most talented rosters. You look for elite players when eliminating the haves from the have nots and for the first time in nearly a decade, Tennessee’s collection of talent is comparable, if not better, to other perceived heavyweights in the SEC.

Path to the College Football Playoff Series

Furthermore, here’s a breakdown of Tennessee’s path to the College Football Playoff …

Defining factors

  • Can Jones overcome his career ineptitude — 1-16 — vs. ranked teams?
  • Will Dobbs meet expectations under center and be more than a flash in the pan?
  • How will the Vols’ front seven, showered with love in the preseason, perform?
  • Can Tennessee snap its 10-year losing skid to Florida?

Magic numbers

  • 37: Touches spanning 10 or more yards from Jalen Hurd, seventh-most among SEC RBs
  • 43: Number of sacks the offensive line gave up last season, an SEC-worst
  • 78.8: Average yards rushing from Dobbs over five starts last fall

Key stretch

In short, Tennessee’s not winning the division (much less the SEC or Playoff) without a win at Florida on Sept. 26. The Vols haven’t beaten the Gators in a decade and now’s the time to take out those frustrations. Games against Arkansas and Georgia conclude the first half of the season prior to a bye week before a showdown in Tuscaloosa, which could be Tennessee’s biggest game in years if the Vols survive the first six weeks. Exiting Tuscaloosa with one loss or fewer on Oct. 24 means Jones’ team would be in the thick of the championship picture with five games to play down the home stretch.

Final say

If the Vols can tackle a front-loaded schedule and get past now injury-ravaged Mizzou in November, this is a team capable of becoming one of the best stories in college football by season’s end. Is Tennessee deserving of its ‘preseason Cinderella’ title coming off a seven-win campaign? That’s kind of the point of picking an underdog to do great things the following season. The Vols return the most starters in the SEC and believe they have a squad ready to leap over the proverbial hump and back into college football’s forefront — like Tennessee of old.